Let’s Talk About the 301 Redirect: What Is It?

A 301 redirect is essential for ensuring that when someone visits your main site at www.site.com, they are automatically redirected to site.com, or vice versa (although, it seems more practical to use the shorter site.com). Let’s delve into why this is necessary.

Why Use a 301 Redirect?

Today, the www prefix is somewhat outdated. However, many users and directories still include it when entering URLs. The problem arises in website promotion and SEO because some search engines treat www.site.com and site.com as separate entities. This division means external links to your site are split between these two versions, diluting the link equity and potentially lowering your search engine ranking. Consequently, fewer potential visitors might find your site, and pages might not get indexed as they should. This issue, although seemingly minor, can have a significant impact.

How to Avoid This Problem?

The solution is to implement a 301 redirect using the .htaccess file, which should be located in your website’s root directory. You can open this file with a text editor like Notepad, though Notepad++ is preferable for its advanced features. If the file doesn’t exist, you can create it. Here’s how you can set up a redirect so that if someone types www.site.com, they are redirected to site.com:

  1. Open or create the .htaccess file in your site’s root directory.
  2. Add the following lines to the file:
Options +FollowSymLinks

RewriteEngine On

RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^www\.site\.com$ [NC]

RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://site.com/$1 [R=301,L]

Explanation of the Code:

  • Options +FollowSymLinks: Allows the server to follow symbolic links.
  • RewriteEngine On: Enables the runtime rewriting engine.
  • RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^www\.site\.com$ [NC]: A condition that checks if the HTTP_HOST header matches www.site.com (case-insensitive due to [NC]).
  • RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://site.com/$1 [R=301,L]: Redirects to site.com, preserving the path ($1 captures everything after the domain), with a 301 status code (permanent redirect).

Why 301 Redirects Matter:

  • SEO Benefits: By consolidating your URLs, search engines attribute all link equity to a single domain, improving your site’s ranking.
  • User Experience: Ensures users consistently land on the correct site, reducing confusion.
  • Indexing Efficiency: Prevents duplicate content issues, making it easier for search engines to index your site correctly.

A Personal Anecdote: I once mistakenly set up my .htaccess to redirect from site.com to www.site.com, resulting in all my pages being indexed with the www prefix. Although this isn’t ideal, re-indexing the entire site just for this cosmetic issue seems excessive. It’s a reminder to carefully plan your redirects from the start.

In summary, setting up a 301 redirect is a small but crucial step in maintaining a well-optimized website. By ensuring all traffic funnels to a single domain, you can improve your SEO, provide a better user experience, and avoid potential indexing issues.